Chapter 33: The Crisis Deepens
Another rumble of thunder from the storm rolling through Canterlot echoed through the castle as James climbed the last stair to the corridor leading to Celestia's private chambers. He turned the situation over and over in his mind as he walked down the hallway towards her door. Right now, he didn't want to go home. That much was true. But he decided he wouldn't tell her that. If she came right out and asked him, he would not lie to her. Then he would tell her he didn't want to go home. But if she didn't ask … well, it's not like he would be lying to her. He just wouldn't volunteer information she didn't specifically ask for. Better to let her think, at least for now, that she was keeping him here against his will. That might make her more inclined to tell him what he wanted to know. As he reached the door to the chambers, he nodded politely to the two Celestia Guards posted outside.
"Privy Counselor Peterson," one of them acknowledged. "I believe Her Majesty is expecting you. I am sorry … to hear about what happened."
"You know already?"
"Everypony in the castle knows, Counselor Peterson. It was difficult not to overhear the shouting match Her Majesty had with her student. Word traveled quickly from the ones outside the door that heard it."
James winced. Of course, he knew Twilight had talked to Celestia about it. But he had had no idea they'd gotten into an argument so tense it involved shouting at each other. "Thank you, sir," he responded to the guard, then knocked on the door. A golden aura surrounded it as it swung open. He stepped inside, watching Celestia stand from the rug she had been lying on in the middle of the floor. Candles flickered on the two tables in the room as an unfelt draft from the open door danced with their flames. To the left, a fire glowed and crackled in a large stone hearth, keeping the cold damp autumn night at bay. The door closed behind him as he knelt and bowed before her.
"Please, stand, James. No need for formalities right now." He could hear the lament in her voice. The lament of a tormented spirit saddled with a decision she wished she had not had to make. "You may speak freely without fear of any repercussions … You are going to ask me to release you from the oath, aren't you." She said it as a statement more than a question. A statement spoken in a voice troubled with sorrow and ridden with guilt.
"No, Your Majesty," he said, standing up. "I am not. I took a life long oath to be faithful and loyal to you, and I intend to fulfill it … But I've surrendered my entire life to you, Your Majesty. All that I am, I've given to you. Tell me whatever it is you know about what's going on. You owe me that much."
She sighed slightly, but nodded twice. "Yes, I do," she responded softly.
Suddenly, the room went dark as midnight on a moonless night. A sizzle from the left, like water had been poured on the fire. With a start, James looked in the direction of the sound. Not even a glowing ember remained as evidence that the fire ever even existed. The candles had also gone out. Then, a faint golden glow in front of him, partially illuminating Celestia's muzzle. An image formed above her head, like a holographic projection. The image expanded into a lattice of interconnected lines of different colors. To James, it resembled the primitive three dimensional wire frame graphics of vintage computer games.
"This, is what we call the macro pattern," Celestia began. "What I'm showing you, is an abstract visualization of it. For the pattern has no visible form of its own that can be seen. Nor does it have any physical form. My sister and I can see the pattern. Most mortals cannot. There are a few exceptions. Star Swirl the Bearded was able to see the pattern. And Firewing, the Elder Dragon ambassador, can also see it. We can zoom out to see the big picture." The interconnected lines bunched closer together as the three dimensional hologram appeared to move backward, as if they were flying away from it, becoming an impossible number of lines. Twisting, turning, merging, parting, running in all directions. A complex neon quilt woven from millions of glowing threads. "Or we can zoom in to focus on small details." The edges of the pattern disappeared as they seemed to fly towards it again, the individual lines in the lattice becoming more defined, more distinct. Celestia continued speaking.
"The macro pattern is woven by The Weaver, as opposed to the micro patterns, which I will get into shortly. Again, this is an abstraction that has no actual physical form. But, there she is." A spot on the pattern blinked twice in a bright yellow color, drawing his attention. The Weaver. To him, she looked like a strange spider with thousands of legs instead of just eight. Behind her, streamed hundreds, maybe thousands of threads, like silk webbing from spinnerets. "Each thread represents a single individual—an individual capable of altering the pattern by joining with other threads, weaving along side of them, crossing over them, or moving away from them. The threads streaming behind her, are new threads she is adding to the pattern. New foals, just being born, for example. For awhile, she will guide their thread, spinning it out behind her, weaving it with her legs. Then she will cut them loose, and they, like you, will influence the pattern, but will be influenced by other threads as well."
The lattice moved again, and they flew even closer to it, until a single white point was highlighted. It appeared to be the end of a thread, or was it the beginning? He couldn't tell. It moved forward. Several other points surrounded it, attached to it, which were in turn, surrounded by several more threads attached to them, forming a complex fractal like pattern. He remained silent, simply taking in everything Celestia was telling him. She continued.
"This thread I have highlighted in bright white, is you. Where you currently are now. The threads surrounding you, attached to you, are other individuals that are currently influencing you, and thus influencing the pattern your thread weaves. This one," she highlighted one of the threads attached to his thread, "is me. This one is Luna. These three are other members on the Council. This one is Captain Swordstorm. And this one that I've highlighted in lavender, is Twilight Sparkle. The pattern being woven by you, is a micro pattern. The pattern being woven by those around you is also a micro pattern. The pattern being woven by the joining of those two micro patterns is another micro pattern. Just as they are influencing the pattern you weave, so too, are you influencing them. Like bricks, of a building, micro patterns are assembled to form larger micro patterns, which are assembled to form still larger micro patterns. Together, as a whole, they make up the macro pattern."
The quilt like lattice appeared to move backwards now, as if they were traveling backwards along the thread that represented him. It zoomed out slightly, showing a length of lattice where his thread weaved with Twilight's, the two crossing back and forth over each other, woven together to form a complex pattern of white and lavender. "This, is about a year back in time. When you were staying with Twilight at the library. If we move further back, your thread makes a sharp turn, and travels off behind the pattern until it runs out of sight." They moved backward a little more along the pattern, and he saw what she had said. The white thread separating from Twilight's, then branching off, traveling backward behind the pattern, disappearing into an infinite dark void.
"This is where things get more complicated," Celestia continued. "Each universe. Each dimension, has its own separate macro pattern. But there is only one weaver. She is everywhere at the same time. Normally, the macro patterns stay separate. But every once in awhile, The Weaver will cross two macro patterns by branching a thread off from one pattern, and bringing it to another. This is what happened with your thread. You can see where it merges with our pattern after coming in from behind."
They traveled forward through the pattern again, moving along dense lattices of connections and points, past the length where he weaved with Twilight Sparkle, past the point where the princesses and council members influenced him. The threads became much lighter, more difficult to see. And they became much less dense, like approaching the end of a forest where trees thin out to open grassland. Celestia spoke again.
"This, is the future. It's dimmer and harder to see, and sparsely populated because much of the future has not been woven yet. And even what has been woven, can be unwoven and rewoven a different way if influenced by forces happening now." She amplified the light coming from a white thread, making it easier to see. "Here is your thread again. And over to the left," she amplified another thread in lavender, "is Twilight's pattern. As you can see, they are far apart right now. But they are on a course that will merge them back together at some point in the future. But there is another thread merging with yours and with Twilight's." She highlighted a dark thread now, so dark he wouldn't have seen it if it hadn't been for her highlight. It was the color of nothing. The color of emptiness, of the void. It had the appearance of nothing more than a simple thread. A thread that might have been unwound from one of the spools in Rarity's boutique. But he was terrified of it. His breath came faster and he could feel his own heart beat. He was aware of Celestia speaking again. "This, is The Beyond, James. Weaving towards you and Twilight. Twilight's thread runs a little behind yours. It may be that you pave the way for her." She paused for a moment. "When, or if—because nothing is absolute in the future—but if it reaches you and Twilight, and the two of you cannot stop it, it will plunge all the way through to the core of the pattern. The very heart where the first thread was woven at the beginning of time. And it will travel out from there, along each of the threads like waves traveling from a stone thrown into a mill pond, devouring each thread as it goes. All of Equestria … will be destroyed."
The terror he felt from the dark thread lashed out at him like a whip, sending waves of chill through his spine. He stood there, staring at the pattern, saying nothing as he let it all sink in. The pattern winked out, and the room became light again. The candles were relit, and the fire blazed in the hearth as if it had never been extinguished. There was silence for several long moments before James finally spoke, in a shaky, unsure voice.
"So … so what is this then … Am I like … is this some kind of chosen one type thing? Chosen before birth and all that? Like it was my destiny and I had no control over it?"
Celestia shook her head. "That's not how it works, James. The Weaver, is ever the opportunist. You chose to work late at your lab that cold winter night. You chose to run the experiment. The earthquake happening at the same time was a random chance event. At that moment, an event occurred inside your particle accelerator. In a sense, it was what you call a god particle event. But it was not the one you were looking for. It was something far more fundamental. Something far more powerful. Something that dwarfs the particle you were looking for in terms of importance. A particle so fundamental, that all temporal dimensions originated from it. That release of core energy—that fundamental energy so essential to the existence of every dimension—is what attracted the attention of The Weaver. And that is when you were chosen, James. That is when she reached out with one of her great legs, plucked your thread, and pulled it here."
The two of them remained silent for several seconds, an uncomfortable silence. Celestia finally spoke again.
"Even if you had not been on the Council, I could not have allowed you to leave Equestria, James. Not knowing all of this."
He nodded in response. Another pause of a few seconds. "What would have happened if I wasn't in the lab that night? Or I hadn't run the experiment?"
"If someone else had been in the lab and run the experiment, we would have gotten them instead. If no one had been there, or you had been there, but had not run the experiment, we probably wouldn't have gotten anyone. And Twilight Sparkle would have to face this threat alone."
He winced at the thought of Twilight being all alone up against … whatever this thing was. "But if I'm not some kind of chosen one … how do you know I will be able to figure out a way to stop The Beyond?"
Celestia shook her slowly. "We don't. We only know that if you and Twilight can't figure out how to stop it, there is nopony who can." She paused for a few moments. "I know this is difficult for you to understand, James. Normally, I wouldn't have told you this until you'd been studying metaphysics for at least a year with one of the other Council members. But I fear we don't have a year."
"Did you know I was coming before I got here? I mean, you said there was another human involved. Did you see me in the pattern before I was involved?"
"No. Your arrival was a complete surprise. You were brought here the instant you caught the attention of The Weaver. I could not see your thread at all until you were here. The other human … Some event happened in your world that got him involved, even though he isn't here yet. But we don't know what that event was."
"If twilight can stop it … she's in danger now. I have to go get her and stop her from going back to Ponyville." James said resolutely.
"She's safer going back to Ponyville than she would be staying here," Celestia responded calmly.
James shook his head. "No, I have to go get her. I have to protect—"
"James, you have to believe me that—"
"No, I have to go get her!"
"James, you will do no such thing! You are on my Royal Council and you will do as I command!" Celestia responded in a stern voice, stomping her forehoof once.
James winced slightly, not having realized the tone of voice he had used with her until she had harshly rebuked him. "Yes, Your Majesty," he responded in a calmer quieter voice.
Celestia sighed slightly, and leaned forward, nuzzling his cheek lightly with her muzzle, then speaking in a calm reassuring voice. "I know you care for her. But please, you must trust me when I tell you that for now, she will be safer going back to Ponyville in the morning than she will be remaining in Canterlot."
He nodded, but said nothing.
"You are angry with me," Celestia said, still calmly. "And I don't blame you. It's understandable. You have every right to be angry with me. And I am sorry I had to do this to you."
He could tell from the tone of her voice that she meant it. She really was sorry. He shook his head. "No, Your Majesty. Actually, I'm not angry with you. Given everything you know, and what you have told me … As your adviser, I would have to advise you not to let me leave Equestria either."
"Thank you … for your understanding." The tone of her voice still contained sorrow and regret, and he could tell his understanding hadn't made her feel any better about the decision.
"Well, it's logical. The needs of the many … outweigh the needs of the one." It seemed an appropriate quote for the situation. And besides, she wouldn't know it came from a Star Trek movie.
"The logical thing to do, isn't always the right thing to do, James."
"You know it is in this case, Your Majesty. I could not expect you to risk all of your subjects—your entire world even—just so that I can go home. That would be extremely irresponsible of you as a ruler. You know that."
"Yes … I do know that." He could tell she was still deeply troubled. There was no reason to let her suffer anymore. He may as well tell her now that she'd given him what he wanted to know.
"Besides, I'll be fine, Your Majesty. I'm happy here. I have good friends who are very supportive. More than I did before I came here actually. And I have a good job helping to shape the future of a nation. I'm happy here. Really, I am." He smiled.
She managed to force a small smile now. "Are there any other questions you have?"
"Well, Your Majesty, I'd ask you how Twilight and I are supposed to stop this Beyond. But I'm assuming if you knew, you'd have told me already."
She nodded. "You will need to find a way, James. And Twilight will need to be told of all of this soon. For now, she is safer if she doesn't know because she's not attracting any attention. But that will not last for much longer. Soon, she will be in danger whether she knows or not. And you may need to be the one to tell her."
"Me, Your Majesty?"
"I cannot say any more about that. But if the time comes when you must tell her, you will know when it is."
He said nothing in response for a few moments, then finally spoke. His voice was nervous, sounding overwhelmed in his own ears. "With your permission, Your Majesty, I'd like to go back to my room. I have a lot to try to process."
She nodded and gave a small smile again. "Thank you … for being so understanding."
He nodded, then knelt and bowed before taking a step back and turning. The door frame glowed with a magical golden aura as she opened it for him. He stepped through, starting down the corridor, hearing the door close behind him.
Celestia awoke early the next morning, long before she needed to raise the sun. She stood up, her horn glowing with magic as she lit a few candles in her room. Then she went over to her mirror and started to prepare for the day.
"Your Majesty?" The voice of one of her Celestial Guards from the doorway.
The guard bowed. "Twilight Sparkle is here to see you, Your Majesty."
"Please, send her in."
"Right away, Your Majesty." The guard bowed again, then stepped away, replaced moments later by Twilight walking through the door. She looked better than she had last night. But still, she looked unhappy and worn down.
"Twilight," Celestia managed a small smile. "What can I do for you this early morning?"
Twilight hesitated for a moment, then spoke. "Princess, I … I need to know. What the Council pony told me last night … Is it true? Will James die if he leaves Equestria?"
Celestia looked at the floor for a moment before responding. If Twilight knew for sure that James would die if he left Equestria, she'd never send him home. But the truth was, Celestia didn't know if that were true or not. It was a belief The Council had come up with on their own. One they strongly believed. But she didn't know if it was true. After all, no pony had ever been separated from the binding spell. Nevertheless, she briefly considered lying to Twilight and telling her with certainty that it was true. But only briefly. No, she couldn't do that. Twilight was her most faithful student. She couldn't lie to her. Finally, she looked back up and responded.
"I don't know, Twilight. It's what the Council believes. But they came up with that belief on their own. That if they are separated from the binding spell, they will die. I do not know if it is true. No pony has ever been separated from the spell. I do not know what would happen if one were separated from it."
Twilight nodded. "Thank you, Princess," she responded stoically. Then she turned, and left the room …
The wood of the practice target split, splinters flying off in all directions as James swung the sword down on top of it with both hands on the hilt, like a woodsman swinging an axe down to split a log.
"What in Celestia's name was that supposed to be?" Captain Swordstorm rebuked him, a strong hint of displeasure and annoyance in his voice.
"That was me being frustrated," James responded flatly.
"You think ruining my swords and practice targets is going to help? You get frustrated and pull something like that in a real battle, it'll be the last thing you ever do! Do it right, or don't do it at all! Now start the routine again from the top!" the pegasus captain scolded, stomping a forehoof in annoyance.
"Yes, sir." James sighed, then raised the sword, starting the series of practice strikes again.
"Sir?" from the right. James stopped in mid swing, both he and Captain Swordstorm looking in the direction of the voice. Another pegasus guard stood in the doorway of the training room. "A word with you, sir."
Captain Swordstorm nodded, then turned his head back to James. "You, keep practicing. Run through that routine again," he said, turning and trotting off to speak with the other guard. James turned his attention back to the practice target, raised the sword, and started the sequence of practice strikes again.
A few minutes later, he stopped as the Captain trotted back over to him.
"Well, I think I have something that might cheer you up a bit, James. One of my Pegasus Guard patrols along the magical borders spotted a strange unicorn who appeared to be doing something with the border. Not one of our own. When the unicorn left, a couple of my guards were able to follow without being seen. Followed them to a cave in the side of one of the hills. Unfortunately that unicorn, along with three others, were able to teleport away before my guards could capture them. But they left a gold mine behind. Two boxes of what my guards think are scientific notes related to your strange objects. They estimate there are over ten thousand pages of notes."
"Ten thousand?" his jaw dropped for a moment, his eyes going wide. "Where are the notes now?"
"Here in the armory. Under heavy guard."
James placed the sword back on the rack next to the others. "Thank you, Captain. Could you please have one of your guards let Her Majesty know I will be here in the armory all day, so she knows where to find me if she needs me?"
The Captain nodded. "Consider it done."
"Thank you sir. And thank you for the lessons," he responded, walking to the door, picking up his pace to a jog. Once outside, the guard that had spoken to Swordstorm earlier lead him to the reinforced secure inner room of the armory where the boxes of notes had been stored.
Ten thousand pages, he thought to himself again. Just as many questions drifted through is mind as he followed the guard. Surely they'd be able to figure it out now. He only hoped they had time. That was a lot of notes to go through and analyze. And things found in the notes might require additional research in the libraries. How were the objects tied to The Beyond? Were they even tied to it at all? Was somepony, or something else for that matter, helping The Beyond? Was it just coincidence? Perhaps The Beyond had simply chosen now because of the chaos the objects were causing? To force them to deal with multiple problems at the same time?
Four guards stood outside the reinforced door to the secure room, but they let him in without questioning him. Four more guards were posted inside the room. At the center, sitting on a table, were two wooden boxes. He walked over to them and examined the first one. It had been nailed shut, but the guards had already removed the nails. Popping the lid off, he reached inside and pulled out a thick stack of paper, a dog eared notebook with some pages folded over to mark positions and notes attached to other pages with paper clips, and another large stack of notes. He set them down on the table and started to skim through the notebook. It was filled with diagrams, mathematical equations, charts, graphs, and references to various scientific and magical publications. Setting that down, he picked up a stack of free papers, holding one edge of the stack in his left hand while flipping through with his right quickly, skimming for anything that might immediately stand out at him.
He passed a page and quickly stopped. What was that? He turned the page backward. In front of him, was something that looked like the blueprints for a house. As he examined them closer, to his horror, he realized they were blueprints for the castle. Circled in red ink, were the private chambers of both Princess Celestia, and Princess Luna. Traced on the blueprint in red ink, like a path drawn through a maze, were the various routes that could be used to get to those chambers.
He glanced at the bottom of the page where notes had been scribbled. Times that guard rotations happened, routes the guards took to get to and from the princesses quarters, what times the princesses would usually be there.
He gave an audible gasp and quickly pulled that sheet out of the pile, looking up towards the guards. "Assemble the Council. In the secure bunker. And get the princesses down there," he said, trying to keep his voice as calm as he could.
The guards hesitated for a moment, one of them speaking. "Is there a problem, Counselor?"
"Now! Go!" James said loudly.
They recoiled slightly at the abruptness of his voice, but two of them nodded and quickly turned, leaving the room at a gallop.
"Counselor, what's going on?" one of the remaining guards asked.
"I don't have time to explain right now," James responded as he jogged out of the room.
Once outside the armory, he broke into a run, towards the castle. Passing the main gate to the courtyard, he yelled out to the guards there.
"Close the gates! Close them! Let nopony in or out!"
The guards at the gate house hesitated only a moment before springing into action. James turned his head away from them and looked forward again, still running towards the castle Behind him, he heard the loud clang of the ratchet mechanism on the gate, the grinding of gears as the iron grate lowered, the squeaking of hinges as the huge reinforced doors closed, the clanging of chains as the drawbridge began to rise and cover the entire gate assembly. Ponies in the courtyard stopped what they were doing, turning their heads towards the gate, some blinking with confused looks on their muzzles. James ran passed them all, to the main entrance to the castle. A loud boom echoed off the castle and the outer walls as the gates finished closing, locking into place, sealing off the courtyard like a fortress.
He ran towards the main entrance to the castle, shouting at the guards as he neared the doors. "Close them! Don't let anypony in or out of the castle!"
The guards looked confused, but quickly started closing the doors as soon as he had passed through them. He quickly turned down the corridor, nearly running into a castle servant pony who gave a brief yelp of surprise. He didn't bother to stop and apologize, side stepping and continuing his run, the sound of the massive main doors of the castle closing behind him echoing off the walls and high ceilings like thunder.
As he continued running, he thought about the gravity of the situation. They would know their notes had been taken by the Royal Guard. They would know it was only a matter of a very short amount of time now before those blueprints were discovered, and their plan would be known. Whether they were ready to put it into action or not, it would be now or never for them.
"I'm sure there's a good reason you ordered the castle gates closed without consulting with Her Majesty first." He looked to his left. Captain Swordstorm galloped up beside him.
"How long ago did your guards find that cave? Find the notes?" he gasped between heavy breaths, the exertion from running combined with the urgency of the situation taking a toll on him.
"They initially found them about … eighteen hours ago."
"Eighteen hours," James said more to himself than to the Captain. "Eighteen Celestia damned hours! They've had eighteen hours to get assassins in here. Please don't let it be too late …"